In terms of economic impact and value to residents, the proposed conversion of a 35,000-square-foot building in the East Hampton Town Industrial Park from a film and television studio to long-term storage should rank at the bottom of the list. Few jobs would be created, and they are likely to be low-paying. In community and cultural terms, storage is pretty much a black hole. We believe that the town could do a whole lot better.
East Hampton Studios and its sound stage was constructed as a media center more than a decade ago. Conceding that the $5 million investment did not turn out to be the boon its founder, Frazer Dougherty, had hoped, a storage facility would be a step backward, even considering the mixed record of success. Since 2007, the facility has been run by Michael Wudyka, who told the town board last month that an unnamed storage company was ready to take over the space. The problem for him — and any new tenant — is that the town owns and leases the land at a low, subsized cost and that it is part of the East Hampton Airport property, over which the Federal Aviation Administration may have a say.
As the town board considers whether to allow Mr. Wudyka’s longstanding deal to go to the storage firm, many options and competing needs should be examined. Among obvious alternatives would be the building’s use as workshops or garages for contractors, pool companies, and landscapers. Town officials have been puzzling in recent months about what to do about commercial vehicles parked on small residential parcels in Springs and elsewhere; providing a suitable site for them at East Hampton Studios might be viable.
Thinking somewhat more broadly, the building might be converted for use by food producers and vendors — kind of like East Hampton’s own Hunt’s Point, the giant wholesale complex in the Bronx. East Hampton has a burgeoning local food sector in which residents are making everything from table salt to beer. As a story in this newspaper noted last week, a number of bakers and other local entrepreneurs have had to make do during off-hours in restaurant and church kitchens. Providing a centrally located semi-public alternative might make sense — and help support dozens of jobs.
Since revenues are less of a concern now that the Town of East Hampton is in better financial shape, another option would be to divide the huge space into artists’ studios. The region was once among the most important on the American modern art scene, but that exalted position has dimmed, thanks in part to the impossible cost of real estate here. Nurturing creativity by providing artists with work space might well be in the community’s best interest.
Now is the time for town leaders to think big and to ask themselves and the taxpayers — perhaps at a dedicated town meeting — to envision the best possible future for a building that should, and could, be a community asset.